Boys high school gymnastics appears to have had its final dismount in Illinois
By Dick Quagliano
Daily Herald Correspondent
Late Monday, the Illinois High School Association Board of Directors announced that the organization would no longer sponsor a state series for boys' gymnastics. The IHSA also voted to discontinue its sponsorship of debate.
With the decision, boys' gymnastics becomes the first IHSA sport to be discontinued since the organization canceled girls' field hockey in 1982.
According to the IHSA, both boys' gymnastics and debate fell under the 7 percent threshold that the IHSA deemed necessary to continue its sponsorship of a sport or activity. That 7 percent threshold was put into place at the start of the high school season last year.
In a statement, IHSA Director Craig Anderson said that the low level of schools participating led to their decision.
“This was a difficult decision that comes after significant discussion and a diligent review of historic data and participation trends,” Anderson said. “After years of decline in participation, boys' gymnastics and debate no longer meet the threshold required by IHSA Policy to conduct a State Series. Boys' gymnastics and debate both dipped below seven percent several years ago, and to our Board of Director's credit, they provided a grace period in hopes that both might experience a rejuvenation after the pandemic, but unfortunately, that has not occurred at a level that allows either to meet the policy.”
Last year, there were 40 boys' gymnastics teams that competed in the state series. Five other schools sent individuals to the state meet, but since they were not full teams, they were not counted in the final numbers.
“The IHSA's refusal to listen or compromise is a slap in the face for those gymnasts, parents, principals and coaches who have worked tirelessly this season to show how important this sport is,” said CJ Patton, current president of the Illinois High School Gymnastics Coaches Association.
“The Board of Directors may see 40 Illinois gymnastics teams and see that as a small number. We see 848 student-athletes who had finally found a place to belong. It is immeasurably disappointing that the IHSA has decided to no longer support these athletes and rather than work through the challenge of maintaining the sport, have elected to give up entirely.”
The decision comes on the heels of the boys' state finals which were hosted by Hoffman Estates. Observers said that it was the largest attendance in a number of years.
There was a proposal to move boys' gymnastics to the fall. That would allow many club gymnasts, who don't compete during the high school season due to conflicts with club gymnastics meets, to be available to compete for their high schools.
The IHSA had said that would have to wait until the 2024-25 school year to make the change to a fall season. With Monday's decision that opportunity appears to be moot.
“I am extremely disappointed, and I will go as far as to say that I am angry,” Patton said. “We brought a variety of options to them, and they took the one that is least desirable.”
Patton, who was a state champion on the pommel horse when he competed for Fremd, said he knows how important a state championship series is.
“Every gymnast sees themselves headed to the state finals,” Patton said. “It is the best goal to strive for.”
Boys' gymnastics had been competing in Illinois since the 1951-52 season.
It once had over 100 schools participating in the sport.
But the sport has been on a downward trend since the mid 1990s. In 2000, there were 50 teams in the state. The sport has had a Northern Illinois slant since then. The 40 schools that had teams this season were all located in the suburbs.
Glenbard South, which is one of the 40 schools that still fielded a gymnastics team, had the smallest enrollment. The school has an enrollment of 1,156 students.
“It is very disappointing,” said Jason Brandenburg, who was the president of the IHSGA until this past May. “My heart sinks for our current gymnasts. Because there are a lot of questions they might have.”
Those questions most likely include the future of the sport.
The schools that have boys' gymnastics now will have to determine if they want to grant it club status at their school. Then comes the questions of coaching stipends, equipment, use of school or private facilities and trainers Then, who will pay for all that.
Could girls gymnastics see the same fate? The girls had 64 teams compete in last year's state series, which is just eight teams above the current number of 56, which is 7 percent.
As of now, boys cannot compete on girls' teams. The IHSA has said that they have a bylaw that would not allow boys to compete on girls' teams.
Patton said that he and his fellow coaches will push to continue.
“You can bet that we will not give up,” Patton said. “We will explore all options and continue advocating for this sport and supporting our athletes. When you fall off the event, you take your thirty seconds and chalk back up. This will not be the end of us.”